Avaes Mohammad


In Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Bada’i Zanzibar…Salaam Bombay!


Yesterday, Sunday morning, May 24th 2009, 4.45 am, we’re awakened by the pilot. 



‘…With a temperature of 17C, the weather in Mumbai is hazy…’



Out of the window it’s still night.  Butterflies crash like a crescendo against my stomach walls as lights are cued into the frame.  The plane descends slowly and Bombay: City of Dreams, spreads herself open to me: Bright yellow and white streetlights sparkle against the black like an Indian Film Heroines’ Sequenced Sari.  Enraptured, a little boy, my celluloid dreams manifest to greet me.  The plane, descending lower and lower, follows a dusty amber hue.  The dust clears.  From an aerial view, all the glory of a Bombay slum is revealed and begins to give chase relentlessly all the way to the runway edge…Salaam Bombay!       


The plane lands and I wait outside it for Sreenath whom I met at the airport in Zanzibar.  If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have made it this far…


…One day earlier…Saturday 23rd May 2009, approximately 11.30 am, Zanzibar.  I’m due to fly in just over 4 hours so it’s as good a time as any to run to a bank and get cash for India.  Sorry.  This transaction has not been honoured!  I go to another bank…No money.  Still another bank….still no money.  I desperately halt a taxi to rush me out of the winding, confining alleys of Stone Town and to the Central Barclays branch…No blasted money!!  Charging inside, I plead with the Bank Staff…I’m a UK Barclays customer for God’s sake! 



‘Sorry sir…we’re affiliated with Barclays in name only really…unfortunately you’ll have to call your bank in the UK.’



Except I don’t have enough cash for the phonecall.  The paradox is lost on those in uniform and I’ve gotta leave soon anyway.  I haven’t even packed!  With the cash I have on me, I pay the taxi.  The rest isn’t enough to pay my hotel bill anyway so I agree with the manager to pay half for now with a promise to pay the rest when this has all cleared up.  Everyone at the hotel wishes me a warm goodbye and Abu, the hotel carpenter helps me out with my bags.  We embrace and hope to see each other again.  Bada’i. 


The Tanzanian shillings I have left, I convert to dollars.  Fourteen.  I’m about to enter a country, a new city where I know no-one with just fourteen dollars.  A little voice of mischief in my head laughs, ‘let’s see what happens’


After check-in at the airport I impress myself by talking an official into letting me onboard with a drum I bought.  As I and my world take a moment to celebrate this small victory (Avaes: 1, Authority: 0) the earth suddenly halts.



Take it then.  But check in the big bag.  And then go pay your airport tax before immigration.



Airport tax!  What in funk’s name is that?! 



In Zanzibar you pay it in cash at the airport sir…Thirty dollars!           



[Once the earth resumes rotation]



Look mate…I’m not being funny yeah, but I can’t pay it…simple!  The machines aren’t giving me any money today…I’ve tried them all…and you lot only accept cash.  I’ve got fourteen dollars and that’s all, and I’m gonna need that for India anyway.  So look, I’m sorry yeah?…but I just can’t pay!






They won’t let you on the plane without paying sir.


Look brother!  What exactly d’you expect me to pay with?  No-one told me I gotta pay thirty dollar to leave… all I got is what you see…fourteen dollars…take my shirt and my shoes if you want but I ain’t got thirty. 



He thinks long…I think I’m winning again…My minds eye sees the scoreboard about to flip over…(Avaes: 2, Authority: Isn’t playing!)



Well sir…You’ll just have to borrow it…there are people here going to Bombay…borrow it from someone.


You what?  How’m I gonna ask someone for money who I don’t even know?…I’ll tell you what…It’s your idea!…So you lend me the money!  Go on!!  You lend it us then and I’ll pay you back!’



Eventually I walk away.  To think, as arguing isn’t helping.  I met someone in Zanzibar who might be able to help.  Upon calling, she says she can give the money but has no car.  Wait! she says.  I’ll see what I can do and call you back.



The flight leaves in about an hour.  The guy at the counter comes over to me. 



Any luck?


I’ve called someone.  Dunno.


Look sir.  That fella over there.  He’s going to Bombay. Ask him!


But I don’t know him man!


[frustrated] Okay!  You do it your way then!!



I stand looking at the man texting into his phone.  My height, short haired Indian fella.  Not much older than me.  He seems dismissive, aloof.  He seems gentle, friendly.



Excuse me.  Hi.  Are you travelling to Bombay?




Sorry to have disturbed you but I’ve been instructed by that gentleman over there to ask if you can help at all.  I’m also travelling to Bombay today but can’t pay the airport tax.  I don’t have enough and no machine in Zanzibar will give me money today.  Now I know I have the money there…


…You sure?


Yes.  I’m sure.  The bank must have frozen my account coz they think it’s got stolen.  English banks do that sometimes when it’s used abroad a lot…so I need to ask someone to lend me the money…


[while texting]  I’ll pay.




[looks up]  I’ll pay.


…Thanks… Thank you very much.  I’ll of course pay you back when we get to Bombay.





And that was how I got to Bombay.  ‘Filmi’ even before I arrived.  So when we landed I was waiting for Sreenath outside the plane and we walked through immigration together, where he told me about his wife and son that he hasn’t seen for three years.  He gave me his contact details before catching his connecting flight to Hyderabad.  Another debt I’ve collected.  Another act of kindness from a stranger.    


I walk towards the exit, ready to lose myself in the folds of that Sequenced Sari I saw from above, as much as fourteen whole dollars would allow.
















  1. hey…..
    its intresting….very natural

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